The Chrome Horn - News


by Walter Newcomb

   Ah the trials and tribulations of a weekend spent in adverse weather conditions. The Fourth Annual Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge for the benefit of the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project presented a great backdrop to weave a unique missive to start the New Year out right. TBax has been waiting for my use of the word “missive” on The Chrome Horn for quite some time. Humor me and read along.
   Timing is everything when it comes to traveling through New York City. The engineering crew for “The Morning Drive” on Sirius NASCAR radio described their surprise of the desolation that was mid-town Manhattan. Just seven hours after the world focused on the bustling metropolis where the ball drops in Times Square to start off another new year, there didn’t appear to be a sole person on the street. How appropriate was it for them to come out of the first commercial break with U2’s “New Year’s Day” as the bumper.
   It remained fairly quiet for most of the trip up to the Olympic Center. People seemed to be out and about in the little village of Keene just south of Mount Van Hoevenberg. Once at the mountain, the Olympic Sports Complex was abuzz with activity.
   The first person I recognized was Brian Sharp from Racing Electronics. Brian introduced me to his daughter Danielle who was helping him get a bunch of radios sorted out in the bobsled building. After being cooped up in the Casa del Toro for six hours I really felt like making a wisecrack like, “Don’t they have child labor laws in this state?” I didn’t, I asked Brian where I might find Don Barker or Bob Cuneo. He didn’t know and after I took a tool around the press center I headed for the Crowne Plaza hotel.
   Once at the host headquarters for the weekend’s events, there were a lot of friendly faces. I got there in plenty of time to help Bob Cuneo and John Morgan relocate two of the event sleds out of the hotel lobby and the Olympic Arena. We brought them to a local supporter’s garage. They’d graciously loaned the Bobsled Project a little room. Fortunately, that won’t be necessary in the future.
   The accommodations at the Crowne Plaza are first rate. They ought to be. I shopped for groceries in a local supermarket with which the New Englanders shop to get their savings. The place was a madhouse. So was the rest of the town. Not a store was closed. Hey! Isn’t it supposed to be quiet on New Year’s Day?

   On Friday I ventured to Mt. Van Hoevenberg with a big box full of banners courtesy of Denis Morgan. On the way, I saw Denis pulled to the side of the road. I’m figuring, here we go, somebody else crashed into Denis again. My buddy exited his truck with a camera and began taking pictures. Oh, thaaats why he stopped. I took out my camera too. A moose was nibbling on a tree about a hundred yards off of the main road.
   Once at the venue my intentions were to help Mr. Morgan and his girlfriend, Michelle, hang sponsor banners all over the place. Based on the weather conditions, reaching the location of the soon to be dedicated Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project Race Shop with the Casa del Toro were out of the question.
   I began climbing a stairway which appeared to lead to the new building. As it turns out, it was a stairway to nowhere. The steps actually go beyond the height of the building.
   After analyzing the situation, we figured crashing down an icy slope was probably the lesser of two evils when juxtaposed against retracing our steps to the bottom of the stairs and walking up the roadway to the front of the building. After all “today is as good a day to die as any”.
   I’ll spare everyone from the four-page version of what happened next. Don Barker said that we needed to get the building organized for the dedication. Two hours later I walked back into the hotel appearing as though I had just buried a body. Picture the scene from Kill Bill Vol. 2 where the protagonist asks for a glass of water at the diner and substitute a 6’4” 360lb man for that character. Yes, I was a big filthy mess.
   Once cleaned up I was back in the lobby to witness goodie time. Shortly after the celebrity guests arrive they are directed to a room where they are outfitted with attire befitting the climate. The folks at Columbia Sportswear provided fantastic outerwear that made the temperatures, which were frequently sub-zero, not only bearable but quite comfortable.
   You’re not Paul Bartholomew. I saw someone wearing Paul’s credential. It wasn’t Paul. I didn’t say anything until I saw Paul. He was wearing someone else’s badge. I told the Sprint Vision anchor, “I guess you’re a corner announcer now; trouble in turn four!” Yes a corner announcer had his pass.
   I ate lunch with Dan Goodwin. Dan is a great friend to the Bobsled Challenge. He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met who is involved in the legal profession. No lawyer jokes until I change the subject.
   The National Guard, which has been a big part of the Whelen Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge, was out again in force this year. They unloaded a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. show-car and fired it up at the hotel’s front entrance. Meanwhile one of their support vehicles was getting a parking ticket across the street. Don’t try to fight city hall; even in a vehicle that says National Guard in foot tall letters, government plates and a driver wearing military uniform.
   Once away from the local cop, our guardsman took to getting the event bobsleds lined up in front of the new building at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. The press conference and photo shoot there was a mob scene. It was all of the congestion one might find at a pit fight without the animosity. Geoff Bodine christened the building with a bottle of champagne. It finally broke on the third swing.
   This is new! At the bottom of the track, gone is the scoring trailer, port-a-john and the four foot by six foot announcer’s booth. In their place is a brand new building that includes broadcast facilities, state-of-the-art timing devices and an honest to goodness toilet. In addition, the entire track now has a roof over it. Parts of the track have retractable shades but the roof over the section by the lower exit dock was completed this year.
   Walk, walk, walk…the competitors got together at start number three and donned creepers in preparation for their “Bobsled 101” class. Creepers are actually like rubber sandals that strap over boots or shoes. They are equipped with spikes to make the slippery ice surface passable on foot if one creeps along. U.S. Bobsled team coaches Bill Tavares and Brian Shimer led their classes on a stroll down to the finish.
   My favorite part of every bobsled weekend was next. It’s great to watch the faces of all the bobsled virgins as they get out after their first ride. It is an opportunity to see a level of elation with which I have not found anything to compare. Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion, Brian Loftin, earns this year’s award for being the most ecstatic.
   Everyone was all smiles at the reception held at the Olympic Arena. Geoff Bodine says, “How can I not do this? Look at the smiles on all of these faces!”
   Later, we ate at Nicola’s on Main St. It is a great place for dinner. Thanks to Mark DiPerno from for dinner. Before anyone knew it, we were told, “Wheels up at 8:15!” It had been a long day and I took that as my cue to leave.
   I headed back toward the hotel. A pillow was calling my name. First I had to climb Mt. Rainier. The walkway was steep and its icy base was covered in fresh snow. My lungs were burning by the time I got to base camp; the lobby.

   As I approached the entrance, I could hear giggling from behind. It was Joey Logano with his female entourage. Joey warned that he might “tackle” one of the ladies in the snow. I told Joey that he was too light to mention the word tackle unless he was holding a fishing pole.
   Remember the order at dinner last night? “Wheels up at 8:15!” whatever that means. It’s 8:30 and there isn’t a soul in the Press Center except yours truly.
   At about 9 am, Geoff Bodine was announced as the first in the track. Terry Kent, one of the venue announcers and an Olympian in his own right, popped in and gave me a lift to the exit dock. Terry competed in Kayak and sports one on the roof of his SUV.
   Several members of the MRN staff got to take a ride down during the morning session. Dave Moody from Sirius Speedway took three runs down. Twice with Boris Said and once with Joey Logano. MRN Producer, Ryan Horn, went down on a four-man articulated sled and so did Reverend Don Rivers from Racing with Jesus Ministries. The four-man bobsleds are considerably faster than the two-man versions.
   The brakeman on Reverend Don’s ride was wearing a helmet-cam and I’m sure the footage is awesome. Horn and Moody were wired for sound and I’m pretty sure their commentary will be heard on Sirius 128 throughout the next few days.
   There was a long break in the action after the Bodine practice session had concluded. The bobsleds that are used for the bobsled challenge are basic sleds that are not articulated. Once these bobsleds reach speed, they really start to tear up the ice along the course.
   What’s the difference? It is the difference between a fixed-axle vehicle like a go-kart versus a vehicle with a live axle. If one were to drive both, on a bias, up a steep banked curve, similar to those on the bobsled course, at least one wheel would lose contact with the surface on the kart where the live axle vehicle would be more likely to keep four wheels on the ground.
   When a runner on one of these basic bobsleds leaves the surface, the cornering forces, which become quite extreme, wind up getting transferred to the remaining runners in contact with the ice. Consequently, the runners on those basic bobsleds tend to carve up the ice on the bobsled course considerably more than those of the runners on an articulated bobsled like the Bo-Dyn bobsleds that Bob Cuneo and his staff put together for our American athletes.
   It’s cold at the top. It’s colder at the upper exit dock a mere hundred yards away from the warming hut where the Bodine competitors finish their runs. I can only imagine how frigid it must be up at start #1.
   Our American athletes are piloting their Bo-Dyn bobsleds down from the top in pursuit of a U.S. National Championship. These competitors are wearing what amounts to a full-body leotard. The women are so cold by the end of their runs that they shake nearly uncontrollably in chill.
   John Napier is one of our best bobsled pilots. I interviewed him as a part of my first story up here three years ago. John’s mom Betsy told on her son up in the finish building today. Apparently Napier borrowed Betsy’s pickup and flipped it on the way to Mt. Van Hoevenberg this morning. The accident didn’t bother the young slider too much. Napier and his brakeman, Cory Butner, grabbed the lead at the end of their first run and there was no looking back.
   What was our start time? That was what was most on the minds of the competitors as they exited their sleds. Judy Shea dutifully records them. Start time is everything in bobsledding at most tracks around the world. The technically challenging course at Lake Placid is one of the few where piloting talent can overcome a poor start.
   When the time came for qualifying, Ray Dunlap and Phil Kurze took to some housekeeping chores. The pair began to sweep the roof. Sweep the roof? Yes the snow that had fallen last night was blowing off of the roof and making it difficult to conduct an interview without a white-out.
   Just when you think everything is going okay things can take a sour turn. Reverend Don Rivers asked a question of Olympic Sports Complex Manager, Tony Carlino. Tony responded, “What people don’t realize is the inherent danger there is in this sport. We have to keep the safety of the competitors in mind at all times.”
   What’s the worry right? We haven’t seen anyone get out of line all weekend. Just then we heard the call…eighty-one! Eighty-one is the call they make when a bobsled flips. Eric Curran got behind in his steering and hit hard enough to break his helmet.
   Two runs later, the four-man bobsled that was providing courtesy rides for sponsors and special guests flipped. A representative of Lumber Liquidators was onboard for a “slide on the side” half way down the mountain.
   The accident with the four-man sled pretty much brought the courtesy rides to a halt. Fortunately, everyone was okay. Boris Said graciously lent Eric his helmet for Curran’s qualifying run.
   Speaking of qualifying, Todd Bodine squeezed in another pole, his second in four years (with a little help). Initially Todd was supposed to have a different brakeman. He snuck guardsman Kenneth Stout, one of the larger guardsman, which may have contributed to a slight advantage. Either way Todd was fast all weekend.
   NHRA Top Fuel competitor J.R. Todd picked up on something, somewhere. He gets my vote for most improved of the drivers who had been there before. He 81’d at the top of the labyrinth last year and never seemed to be in the running for a quick time. He was slowest in qualifying but he’s my dark-horse.

   Cocktail hour at the banquet and auction was sponsored by Flink & Smith. I got to see Ed Flink at the banquet but missed him on the hill. I really wanted to get a couple of pictures for him to share.
   One person I was kind of surprised to see this weekend was George Silberman from NASCAR. George did take a ride down in the four-man Saturday and one ride was fine with him thank you. Special thanks to George and NASCAR for sponsoring Saturday’s dinner.
   Ray Dunlap did an outstanding job with the auction. The “Be an MRN Pit Reporter” that offered a real on-air opportunity for the Cup race at Watkins Glen went for about six-hundred bucks. I wish Pete Milano and Gary Danko could have been there to bid on that one.

   Sunday is race-day. In previous years, Saturday has been race-day. Either way I was wondering where people were again when I got to the track. There were plenty of fans on hand at the finish.
   I watched the vehicles ferrying competitors and sponsors up the hill to start three from the upper exit dock. Meanwhile I was privileged to have full access to America’s World-Class athletes as they competed in their final two National Championship heats.
   Steven Holcomb, who is the pilot of USA 1 on the World Cup Tour, wound up finishing third behind Napier by 0.70 seconds after four combined runs. In all fairness to Holcomb, the bobsled that he usually competes in is in Europe and he ran the National Championship races in borrowed equipment. Napier and Butner didn’t have a single start time that was better than those of Mike Kohn & Jacob Miller or Holcomb & Curtis Tomasevicz. It’s a tribute to how well John as honed his skills as a pilot.
   Aside from these Olympians, World Cup and future hopeful’s excitement, there was post race tech. just like at our races. Each sled went across the scales along with their pilot and brakeman. In their case however, it is incurring the wrath of an official for being overweight that is the dread of these competitors.
   Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo won the Women’s two-man event by 1.37 seconds over four combined runs. Second was the team of Phoebe Burns and Jamie Greubel and third were Jamia Jackson and Jazmine Fenlator. Okay, I’ve got eight minutes.
   Eight minutes? Yes that was the intermission time between the end of the National Championship competition at the upper exit dock and the pre-race ceremonies at start three. Get a move on it Walt.
   I later explained to Phil Kurze how walking the trails up and down around this course is a lot like driving a big truck for me. I use a lot of air and fuel climbing the steep inclines. It burns the heck out of the lungs when it is that cold. When coming down the hills I’ve got to make sure not to overheat the brakes or abuse the tires.
   Reverend Don gave the perfect invocation. We were also treated to a wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to get the festivities kicked off. Now Walt, get back to the finish.
   Todd Bodine beat Joey Logano by 0.40 seconds to take down the win in the first race. Logano edged third place finisher, Larry Gunselman, by 0.02 seconds. And then came the NASCAR vs. NHRA event.
   The NASCAR representatives were Geoff Bodine, Todd Bodine, Joey Logano and Boris Said. The NHRA contingent was represented by Jeg Coughlin, Bob Vandergriff, J.R. Todd and Morgan Lucas. They faced off on either side of a bracket and eliminated one competitor on each run until one NHRA and one NASCAR driver remained.
   The competition was amazing. Bob Vandergriff 81’d in the first round when he flipped coming out of Shady II. His bobsled went all of the way over and he slid a good portion of the track on his head! Fortunately he’s got strong neck muscles from playing college football and had the athleticism to get his helmet beneath the cowl of his sled to get that head off of the ice.
   Todd Bodine appeared to have knocked Boris Said off of the mountain as he faced down Morgan Lucas in the final. The treat was that for this year’s head-to-head final, the NASCAR and NHRA winners would face off in real world-class Bo-Dyn Bobsleds. The National Guardsmen who had served as brakemen for the competition were supplanted by U.S. Bobsled Team coaches Brian Shimer and Bill Tavares. A coin flip determined with which driver they would each serve.
   Morgan had a great run will Bill Tavares. Tavares was elated with Lucas' performance. Morgan was a little late coming off of "the Trickle" Turn 18. Their down-time was nearly two seconds faster than any pass he had made all day. Bill looked like a man who had been lost at sea thanking the powers that be and almost kneeling to kiss the very ground on which he stood.
   Todd Bodine was flirting with an outstanding run and was more than a quarter second faster than Lucas at the final split. Todd Bissonette took a photograph of the run that really told the story of how Brian Shimer felt about riding with Bodine. Shimer is perhaps America’s most recognizable member of the bobsled community with the possible exception of John Morgan.
   Shimer is a man who has literally thousands of passes on this very track from start one all of the way at the top of the hill. On this run Bissonette captured Brian’s eyes as big as saucers as the pair sped through turn fourteen. He may have no fear but seeing that image only related a look of sheer terror to me.
   Unfortunately for Todd and Shimer, Bodine was just a little later than Lucas coming off of Turn 18 and as a result the Bo-Dyn sled wound up on its side. Shimer related that that was the first time he had been over (81’d) in a two-man sled that he wasn't driving.
   Bob Cuneo asked Todd, “How does it feel to own a bobsled?” That bobsled was actually the same bobsled that Grayson Fertig piloted to fourth place in the National Championship event. Everyone was in good spirits afterwards and the bobsled only appeared to have slight damage to its cowl gasket.
   I got over to the Press Center to file an update for the folks here at TCH. Jason Cunningham was putting together his releases from the event. It was all over way too soon. But I can’t stop smiling about it.

   I thanked a ton of people on that final post from Mt. Van Hoevenberg. By comparison, the list of people that need to be thanked is far longer. So many people contribute in different ways. I want to mention Eric Morse. Eric does a ton of work getting the whole show produced. Special thanks to Phil Kurze, Bob Cuneo, Don Barker and John Morgan who always make things easy for me. By the way John, your brother Sean says that he’s the real bobsledder in the family.

   It was a long trip home Sunday night. It will be an even longer time before the Fifth Annual Whelen Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge comes around. Fortunately the first SPEED TV broadcast of this year’s challenge will be on Sunday, January 18th at Noon. Check your local listings for times in your area. For those who can’t wait to see how our U.S. Bobsledders do in international competition, check to see if your television provider has “Universal Sports”.
   Universal Sports is an NBC cable channel that carries all kinds on International competitions from track and field to swimming to gymnastics and winter sports. I was pleased to find it available to those who had the least expensive cable box option in our area.

   We’re going to try to get to AC for the Motorsports Show and the Indoor races this week. I don’t know whether we’ll wind up at the boiling point casino again but we’ll post updates from there when we can.

Photo Gallery
by Walter Newcomb

SourceWalter Newcomb / Annual Whelen Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge
Posted: January 10, 2009


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